Perspective: Greenbuild 2016

John Kranz, Halie Colbourne, Kena David, and Brad Gambrell at Greenbuild 2016

Greenbuild is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual green building conference and expo where designers, contractors, owners, developers, and sustainability experts gather to share knowledge about the latest trends in sustainability and the innovations which are pushing the green building industry forward. Since 2014, Greenbuild has had a strong focus on LEED v4 and the impact the new rating system will have as we move towards a more sustainable future. Greenbuild 2016 in Los Angeles was no different.

In recent years the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), a third party credentialing body, has grown its umbrella of rating systems to include LEED, WELL, EDGE, PEER, SITES, GRESB and Parksmart. Innovators of the green building movement have added topics beyond energy reduction and water conservation – topics ranging from material ingredient transparency to business transparency to health in the built environment. Additionally, ZNE, CALGreen and the AIA 2030 Challenge are just some of the green building initiatives that are pushing the industry towards a more resilient future.

So what does this all mean for construction and real estate? BCCI has compiled four perspectives from our colleagues on their takeaways from Greenbuild 2016 and where the green building industry is heading.

Architect’s Perspective: Brad Gambrell

One of the most interesting trends at Greenbuild this year, and in the green building movement in general, is the increased attention to the health and wellbeing of building occupants. It is widely accepted that a “greener” building is healthier for the environment, but until recently there was limited attention given to designing buildings and spaces that are healthier for the people who occupy them.

There were some excellent sessions on biophilic design – the emerging practice of designing the spaces that connect to nature, something that is often lost in modern urban environments. This design concept integrates natural elements, materials and forms into architecture and interiors. Research shows that interaction with nature can improve productivity, lower stress levels, enhance learning comprehension, and increase the rate of recovery from illness. The integration of nature into work spaces serves as both a pleasing aesthetic, as well as, an innate, therapeutic force.

Practical examples were presented showing how designers are applying design principles to create biophilic environments and the science and research behind the principles was explored. For instance, some examples included ways of creating a visual connection with nature, using natural “analogues” (forms and patterns) and even spatial relationships that relate to our experience in a natural environment. This is still a relatively new and evolving practice in design, so we will certainly be seeing a great deal more in the coming years. I’m excited about how BCCI will participate and contribute to this growing movement as we transform the spaces in which our clients work and live.

Sustainability Perspective: Halie Colbourne

When it comes to green building, today’s conversation is about the people within the built space. Greenbuild’s central message in 2015 was that “sitting is the new smoking.” For 2016 it is “workplace stress is the new secondhand smoke.” Several Greenbuild sessions reiterated this, and for good reason. How we shape our physical space and workplace culture plays a crucial role in employee health. According to Architect Magazine, Stanford University researchers found the effects of secondhand smoke are comparable to workplace stress. Additionally, people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, and on average 47 of our weekly hours are spent working. Whitney Austin Gray who led the session, “Tools and Incentives for Health-focused Design,” stated that health outcomes are determined primarily upon social and environmental factors, not variations of health care, which only account for 20 percent.

To help cultivate a positive office culture, the WELL Building Standard has become a platform to lead organizational change. Project teams seeking WELL certification interact with human resources, facility managers, and other internal teams to address various features of the rating system. WELL’s seven concepts: air; water; nourishment; light; fitness; comfort; and mind focus on alleviating multiple workplace stressors such as meals at one’s desk, long work hours, distracting acoustics, and inefficient workspace lighting to name a few. As WELL is driving change in a multitude of ways, addressing these stressors aids in preventative care and ultimately fosters a healthy work culture for an organization.

Contractor’s Perspective: Kena David

After attending this year’s Greenbuild conference, one thing is clear: LEED v4 is not a rating system to be preparing for in the future. It is now the current standard, and it is impacting the construction industry and real estate stakeholders in a variety of ways. Since the widespread adoption of the LEED rating system over the past 20 years, most projects, regardless of certification, are implementing a number of green building initiatives. In the Bay Area, all projects must comply with a mandated, jurisdictional level of CALGreen, part of the California Building Standards Code. CALGreen measures have almost identical requirements to the LEED rating system in categories such as: waste diversion; water efficient fixtures; sustainable and low-emitting materials; indoor air quality; and commissioning. With the implementation of LEED initiatives in state building codes such as CALGreen, many owners, architects, contractors, and subcontractors are well-versed in the requirements and language of LEED. However, with there now being many different sustainability platforms for project teams and owners to administer, it can be a challenge pursuing certifications.

What’s new that contractors need to pay attention to? Projects pursuing LEED v4 or WELL need to take extra precaution with materials documentation and indoor air quality. The main difference in LEED v4 and WELL versus the previous version of LEED, v2009, and the CALGreen measures that we are all familiar with is that materials documentation is now focused around material ingredients and toxicity. In addition designing and building for these newer platforms requires extra attention to the mechanical design, specifically related to indoor air quality.

Real Estate Perspective: John Kranz

Occupiers, regulators, and investors have become increasingly aware and engaged in sustainability dialogue and decisions elevating the importance for those developing and delivering real estate projects and solutions. While the challenge remains of higher upfront costs for impactful solutions, public and private sector investors are factoring in information on ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) when considering investment opportunities. Investors are making informed decisions based on the funds, analytics, and reporting of each investment. Real Estate Funds, Analytics, and Reporting track sustainability factors and benchmarking performance that lead to proactive signaling to investors. Additionally, financial markets are recognizing efficiency improvements (such as reduced energy and water usage, recycled water, and alternative energy) that impact profitability and long-term asset value, going as far as underwriting projects with sustainability initiatives.

While the focus at Greenbuild 2016 linked green building concepts with the occupants of sustainable spaces, it is clear that green building and sustainability impact all areas of construction and real estate – from design, to building, to investing, and more.

Learn more about Sustainability at BCCI here.

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